Growing up with two mothers

One day in 1987, my father came home and confessed to his wife Danièle that he had a son in the Ivory Coast.

That son was me.

Danièle and my father had met in Brussels a few years earlier, but their encounter occurred only a few months before Danièle left Belgium to move to Switzerland. My father stayed in Belgium for a short time, before moving to Besançon in France. He lived there only a short time before re-uniting with Danièle.

In 1984, dad married Danièle, and that allowed him to join her in Geneva. My father is from the Ivory Coast, but until he and Danièle married he wasn’t allowed to live with her in Switzerland. Things went for them over the next few years, but things changed on this day of 1987.

I was born out of wedlock to my father and biological mother Angeline on January 18, 1987.

Johan Djourou Mom
Copyright Athlete’s Stance/Laura Gauch

It was a difficult time for my parents, but after long discussions, Danièle decided that she wanted to adopt me to make sure that I had the best opportunities growing up in Switzerland. I was born in Marcory, which is situated on the southern tip of the Ivory Coast, and Danièle felt Switzerland offered me a better future. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one she embraced with open arms.

The situation was also very difficult for my biological mother to accept. Angeline didn’t want me to leave her and move thousands of kilometers away. But the hope for more opportunities in Europe finally convinced her to let Danièle adopt me.

It’s true that If I hadn’t come to Europe I might not have achieved the life that I have today. It is absolutely beautiful, but out of the ordinary to have two moms. It hasn’t always been easy, however.

When you’re just a kid, you don’t necessarily understand what is going on. I was just 17 months old when I was adopted. I was used to being with my mom all day long, and then one day, I was taken away from her.

Having to leave my family, familiar environment, the people and even the odours I was used to was very difficult. Making things even more difficult was all of a sudden having a white mother. I was from Africa. A black child being raised by a white mother at the time was far less common than it is today.

I didn’t notice the difference in the beginning, but as I grew up, people started asking me questions about my mother’s skin colour. It made me start to question many things. I often think that these difficulties made it difficult to realize just how amazing and strong Danièle really was for adopting me.

I didn’t have a lot of contact with my biological mother, which was really difficult when I was a child. I tried to get closer to her as I got older, which was tough for Danièle to accept. At that time, she was also battling depression due to things she had gone through in her childhood, which added to the complexity of the situation.

Times weren’t easy, and for a young child, it could become even more difficult. I didn’t fully understand the complexity of the issues. But then, as an adolescent, I got the chance to play for Arsenal and go to London at a very young age. It allowed me to go out into the world on my own.

When I arrived in London, I felt the need to distance myself from the situation back home and to focus on myself and my football career. I was all by myself and only 16-years old. I wanted to manage everything on my own. This has helped me build the character I have today. More importantly, it has helped me figure many things out about my family situation. I understood that my attachment to my biological mom was strong. I needed her in my life.

Today, this situation is no longer a problem. My mother Danièle has left depression behind her and she has accepted that I needed to connect with my roots. She also understands that I love both of my moms and I am very grateful to have them. I feel extremely lucky to be able to say that I have two moms and a great relationship with both of them.

Johan Djourou, Personal Archives

The beauty of having two moms is to have two amazing role models who come from different origins and different pasts. Both are very loving and ready to do anything to help the people they love. Those are values I feel they both have instilled in me.

For me, having two moms has been a great help. Having both as a support network has allowed me to grow as a man and a person away from football. I feel lucky to have been able to grow up with two moms and to be a part of two cultures. It has had a strong impact on the father and husband I have become.

Johan Djourou Mom
Copyright Athlete’s Stance/Laura Gauch